If you’re interested in a career in a growing and dynamic field, consider becoming a healthcare administrator. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in this area is expected to grow by 32 percent over the next decade through 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. In 2020, the median salary for a person working in healthcare administration was $104,280 annually, or $50.13 an hour. Healthcare administrators work in various facilities, including medical practices, hospitals and nursing homes.
While certification is not an absolute requirement for becoming a healthcare administrator, it is certainly advantageous as far as the job market is concerned for the person achieving certification. Such certification can lead to higher positions of responsibility and greater earnings. Employers know that certified individuals increase staff competency along with the quality and productivity of the team. Obtaining certification also shows employers that an employee is dedicated to the field of healthcare administration.
Types of Certification
The types of certification available depends on the regulations of the organizations overseeing the process. They will differ according to the type of employment in which the candidate is engaged. Certification does not replace state licensing, where required, but many states recognize certification as an acceleration for licensing eligibility.
- American Association of Healthcare Administration Management
AAHAM’s certification program is one of the oldest, in existence for the past four decades. The initial certification is for Certified Revenue Cycle Specialist (CRCS), with those successfully completing this certification going on to become a Certified Revenue Cycle Executive (CRCE). Continuing education is necessary to retain these certifications. AAHAM considers its certifications as akin to offering a “complete career ladder.” Both exams are conducted online, and are offered in March, July and November.
The CRCS exam allows two hours for completion. It focuses on areas of the revenue cycle, including relevant regulations and acronyms. The exam consists of three multiple-choice sections. The exam is available to those involved in healthcare patient accounts management. While AAHAM membership is not required, it is encouraged. The AAHAM recommends at least one year of employment in the healthcare revenue cycle industry to successfully complete the CRCS.
According to the AAHAM, passing the CRCE exam is the healthcare administration revenue cycle field is equivalent of passing the bar exam for attorneys or becoming a CPA. The CRCE is an eight hour exam covering subjects such as patient access, billing, credit and collections and revenue cycle management. The exam consists of multiple-choice and true/false questions, as well as fill in the blank, short answer, essay and quantitative questions. There are two types of executive certification, with one focusing on the revenue cycle within a hospital or health system setting and the other focusing on the revenue cycle in a physician or clinic setting. The exams are available to AAHAM members in good standing. The candidate must have at least four years of experience in a healthcare-related field. A two year associate degree or a degree from an accredited university or college can be substituted for two years of experience. IF a candidate uses an educational waiver in lieu of experience, the exam application must include a transcript copy. If a candidate fails a section, that section’s exam must be retaken within 18 months of the initial exam date. The candidate will receive written notification of their test results within 90 days of the exam date.
- American College of Health Care Administrators
ACHCA offers certification for Certified Nursing Home Administrators (CNHA) and Certified Assisted Living Administrators (CALA). ACHCA membership is not a requirement for certification. Candidates must possess at least an associate’s degree, and a bachelor’s degree is preferable.
Recertification may be achieved via an executive portfolio, consisting of 150 hours of continuing education over the five year certification period, as allocated into the Five Domains of Practice, or a pre-approved Executive Level Course. Recertification is also available by retaking and passing the Specialty Exam.
- American College of Healthcare Executives
ACHE offers a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE) certification. Candidates for FACHE certification must have a master’s degree, and must hold ACHE membership for at least three years prior to applying for certification. They must have held employment in an executive level healthcare management position for at least five years, and participate in two healthcare and two community or civic volunteer activities. Candidates must supply two references and demonstrate that they have had at least 36 hours of continuing education. Within two years of applying for certification, they must pass the Board of Governors’ Examination in Healthcare Management. Once certified, Fellows must recertify every three years, which includes passing the Board of Governors’ examination again or completing 36 hours of Healthcare Management Continuing Education credits. Of these, 12 hours must include ACHE face to face education credits. The other 24 credits are either ACHE face to face or ACHE Qualified Education credits. Participation in the two healthcare activities include public education on health-related issues; volunteering at awareness walks or runs or blood drives; volunteering at a clinic or similar healthcare organizations and working with local, state or national healthcare organizations. Community and civic activities may include charitable, religious or educational activities, including serving on school or community boards. Long-term, short-term and one-time events may qualify. Currently, the FACHE recertification fee is $200.
- Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society
HIMSS offers a Certified Associate in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CAHIMS) certification for “emerging” professionals who may or may not have industry experience. Those with more experience in the field may qualify for the Certified Professional in Healthcare Information Management Systems (CPHIMS) certification. CAHIMS candidates must have a high school diploma or equivalent, while those qualifying to take the CPHIMS exam must have a bachelor’s degree and at least five years of information and management systems experience, three of which were in a healthcare setting. Alternatively, CPHIMS candidates may hold a graduate degree and have three years of information and management experience, two of which were in a healthcare setting. While candidates are not required to join HIMSS prior to taking the exams, members receive an exam fee discount. After receiving CAHIMS or CPHIMS certification, the certificate holder must renew it every three years. Renewal consists of either retaking and again passing the exam, or taking online continuing education units and submitting the transcripts.
- Professional Association of Health Care Office Management
PAHCOM offers a Certified Medical Manager (CMM) certification. Such certification proves to the public, as well as physicians and other medical professionals, that the individual has demonstrated competency in the healthcare administration field by passing this rigorous test. Those holding a CMM have the knowledge and skills necessary to manage the complexities of medical practices and ambulatory service centers, with CMMs serving as crucial links between patients, patients, staff and insurance companies. The CMM is the only nationally accredited professional certification specific to practice management with focus on managers of solo provider and small group physician practices, according to PAHCOM. Qualifications for taking the CMM include at least two years of employment in the healthcare field supporting patient care, as well as at least 12 post-secondary educational credits in healthcare management or medical business administration. Each year of a candidate’s experience beyond the two year minimum reduces the educational requirement by one credit. The exam is in a 200 question multiple choice format, proctored at a test center and taking three hours to complete. The exam content focuses on the Nine Domains of Medical Practice Administration. Testing, available across the country, is scheduled via email. Currently, testing rates are $770 for non-PAHCOM members and half-price for PAHCOM members. If the applicant does not show up for their scheduled exam, they are charged a $200 fee. Candidates receive an unofficial score immediately after taking the exam, but the official results arrive approximately two weeks later.
Steps to Become Certified
As noted, the steps to becoming certified depends on the individual certifying organization. Certification for most organizations is based on meeting educational and work requirements, passing the certification exam and taking continuing education courses for recertification as per the organization’s renewal cycle.
Generally, healthcare administration certification requires a bachelor’s degree, with some programs requiring a master’s degree. As noted, a few elementary certifications are available to those with an associate’s degree in healthcare administration or a high school diploma.
Virtually every state has colleges and universities offering a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration, healthcare management or healthcare informatics, and it is often possible to earn such degree via accredited online schools. It is wise to consider further education before the completion of the undergraduate degree, as many graduate programs in healthcare administration and related fields have certain prerequisites for admission, and it is easier to take the necessary courses while still an undergraduate rather than play “catch-up” when applying to graduate school. Typically, a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration involves an internship, so that student receive hands-on experience in their career field. Because healthcare administration pertains to the effective management and running of a healthcare business, expect courses that include finance, law, economics, marketing, statistics, information systems, accounting and general business subjects, in addition to courses that are healthcare specific. While an undergraduate, students may want to investigate certifications in the field so they may continue setting professional goals once they have earned their degree and begun working in the field.
A master’s degree in healthcare administration or a similar field is frequently offered through a university’s school of business, with the candidate working towards a Master’s in Business Administration with a healthcare management concentration. Some universities may offer master’s degree through their schools of public health. It is possible to complete most of these degrees within 18 to 24 months. A master’s degree in healthcare administration generally consists of 10 to 12 core courses, each worth three or four credits. Many master’s degree programs offer substantial online learning components, so that busy people working in healthcare administration can complete coursework on their own time schedule. Many universities offer weekend classes to accommodate the working professional. Elective options in a master’s degree program allow the student to take classes pertaining to their particular interests in the field.
Once you have completed the necessary degrees and obtained employment in your field, it’s time to consider pursuing healthcare administration certification. Since most certification require at least two years of employment in a healthcare-related position, start researching the best certifications for your position once you feel comfortable in your job. See what types of certifications those in senior positions above yours have earned, and ask questions. A person who has gone through the process and must take continuing education classes for recertification can answer questions you may not find online or in the application forms.